Animals are the main attraction at Madikwe Game Reserve; but the history of the area carries the indelible – and ancient – history of its local people.
As you stand in the vast expanse of Madikwe Game Reserve, it’s tempting to think that nothing happens here – or ever has. Yet those trees over there, that river down that side, and that koppie (hill) on the horizon each have a story to tell of a place steeped in history and tradition.
The famous Mafikeng Road, which now runs through the reserve, was once used by explorers, hunters, merchants and missionaries as part of an early-1800s trade corridor that linked Cape Town to Bulawayo. Figures like Cecil John Rhodes and David Livingstone trod these paths – as did the likes of King Mzilikazi, leader of the Matabele tribe, who crossed the area that now makes up Madikwe Game Reserve in the 19th Century as he expanded his kingdom.
The reserve itself has an unusual origin story, being established on land that was no longer fit for farming. In the 1990s the South African government, through Operation Phoenix, translocated more than 10 000 animals of 28 species into the reserve.
The area’s rich cultural history began almost one million years ago, when Stone Age humans lived and hunted here. Artifacts from their time have been found along the Marico River, close to Tweedepoort Ridge. After 900 AD Iron Age humans arrived in the Dwarsberg region, and between 1300 and 1420, when the climate was cool and dry due to the Little Ice Age, Sotho-Tswana people moved here from East Africa. The Hurutshe people were among the first to arrive, settling at Kaditshwene in the Marico River Valley.
The 19th Century brought the Difaqane: a period of unrest which forced the Sotho-Tswana people to move from their homesteads to the safety of Madikwe’s hilltops. Kaditshwene lay in ruins. Marico – from the Tswana word meaning “drenched with blood” – carries the memory of the battle that destroyed the settlement in 1823.
Boers (farmer-settlers) came next, freeing the Sotho-Tswana people from enslavement by Zulu chief Mzilikazi, and establishing a hunter’s road through Derdepoort to Matabeleland. Civil war between Boer clans was followed by the Boer War against the British, before – finally – peace came to Madikwe. In the early 1900s South African author Herman Charles Bosman spent time living here, finding inspiration in its colourful local characters and unique frontier atmosphere.
That history, that character, is etched into the rocks, rivers and valleys of Madikwe Game Reserve. Guests can still visit the Kaditshwene Ruins in the Tshwenyane Hills; discover Thaba Sione, the rock engraving site near Khunwana and Kraaipan; knock on the door of Bosman’s School near Abjaterskop; explore Khunwana, the capital city of the Barolong people; and see the monument to the first engagement of the Boer War at Kraaipan.
Speak to the staff at your Madikwe Game Reserve safari lodge, and ask about exploring some of those sites – and more – on your safari game drive.
All Madikwe Game Reserve safari lodges offer guided safari game drives as part of their guest experience. These are led by knowledgeable field guides, who are well versed in the reserve’s rich historical and cultural heritage.